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Prejudice Toward The Overweight Person


Some people cannot understand why others have a weight problem. They feel that all that is needed is for the person with the weight problem to just eat less and/or exercise more and the problem will go away. Some are concerned about the looks of a person who is overweight and how it affects their relationship with others. Some are more concerned about the health problems that accompany excess weight and fear that well spouses will become ill and not be able to continue in their role as care givers. But the one thing that has come through in almost every case is to repeatedly blame the person who is overweight for his problem and to make that clear to him with their comments.

 

There is an overwhelming prejudice against people that are overweight that defies logic and simplifies a very complex multifaceted problem. One cannot simply eliminate food from their lives. The temptation is everywhere and constant. Yet, overweight people are lumped together, considered lazy and often assumed to be contributing to their own problem without a thought to what is really happening.

 

I remember hearing little disagreement when one airline wanted to force heavier people to purchase two seats. The rationale seemed to be that heavier people add more to the total weight of the airplane necessitating the use of more fuel and therefore should pay more.


I was shocked to hear people agreeing with this argument instead of − even for the sake of pure self-interest − taking this reasoning to its logical extension: if we are going to charge airline seats by weight, why does every toddler over two have to pay full price for a ticket? Surely, their weight does not use the same gas as an adult. Further, if we make a heavier person buy two seats, then a very thin family of five who may be able to fit into three seats comfortably should only have to buy three airline tickets by the same logic.

 

But logic seems to disappear and prejudice prevails when people see someone who is heavy. Here are some further examples that were given to me by well spouse support groups.


“I was in a doughnut shop with a few members of my support group. One member, who does not have a weight problem, comes here every day for her unhealthy dose of two doughnuts and coffee. Another member, who is heavier, decided to treat herself by sharing a doughnut with me, as she had just taken her daily walk of two miles. To the shock of us all, a stranger took it upon herself to suggest to the heavier woman that she would be better off, for her health, not to be eating doughnuts.”

 

The assumption (but not the reality) was that it was the heavier woman who had the unhealthy life style. This stranger seemed to think she had the right and even the responsibility to correct another and tell her what, in her mind, she was doing wrong.

 

Here’s another: “I vacationed with a friend who does not have a weight problem like I do. A meal did not go by without her noticing what I was eating and commenting that I ate so much less than she did. Despite this, by the end our vacation she couldn’t resist (for my benefit of course) telling me that I really should take off the excess weight and eat less.


“Despite the fact that each day she commented on how little I ate compared to her and that only days before, I had told her I had been recently diagnosed with hypothyroid, she chose to ignore what she saw and heard and just assumed she had the right to tell me what to do about my weight, which made no sense in reality at all.”

 

We are prejudiced about overweight people. We make assumptions about why they are overweight, what they eat; how they live and even feel we have the right to tell them how to live differently. Whether we use snide comments or our own assumed, distorted reality, we tell ourselves that we do this to help them, even though reality tells us differently.

 

We convince ourselves that by telling them they are too heavy it will help the situation, even though we know that such reasoning has no basis in fact and that our interfering is usually more harmful than helpful. We would be irate if the tables were turned and they took it upon themselves to point out what they think our problems are and tell us what we needed to do to make our problems disappear.

 

And yet we continue to hurt, anger, correct and insult them and lie to ourselves about our “good” motives. Perhaps it would help them more if we were to examine why we choose to involve ourselves inappropriately in their lives in the first place. Perhaps we need to look at ourselves and discover our own true motivations for our prejudicial comments and just leave others alone.

 

You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

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Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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